Disney merger in sight, Viacom18 rejigs top roles

Reliance and Viacom 18 want to hit the ground running with the new deal. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Reliance and Viacom 18 want to hit the ground running with the new deal. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)


  • Business divided between two CEOs - Kiran Mani and Kevin Vaz; sports to report into digital

MUMBAI : Reliance Industries Ltd-owned Viacom18 has brought its entertainment businesses under two top executives, in an overhaul ahead of its $8.5-billion merger with Disney’s India unit.

As part of the new structure, Kiran Mani, who joined the company as chief executive of digital business (JioCinema) in November last year, will lead the digital and sports businesses, while the entire content business will be under Kevin Vaz, who joined as CEO - broadcast in July last year.

Under the new structure, Vaz will oversee content clusters - general entertainment, English youth and music, kids and live events - for both linear TV and digital. He will also oversee the movie studio business, housed under Viacom18 Studios.

Mani’s overall mandate will include digital product, subscriber management, ad tech (payment discovery), monetization, P&L (except entertainment content) and influencer marketing, in addition to the sports business. Interestingly, sales of linear sports channels will also be under Mani’s ambit.

Anil Jairaj, CEO of Viacom18 Sports, who earlier reported to the board, will now report to Mani under the new structure.

Mint has seen a copy of the office communication regarding the changes.

“There is a new structure in place, with both Kiran and Kevin working together as two co-CEOs. While Kiran is in charge of digital, tech and sports, all content is with Kevin. This has clearly ruffled some feathers and not all leaders are happy with the new structure. Already, the original leadership team of Viacom18 has seen massive changes over the last year," said a senior executive at Viacom18, refusing to be identified.

An email query sent to a Vicacom18 spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.

Viacom18's leadership structure has seen several changes in the last four years. After Sudhansnu Vats, now MD-designate at Pidilite, left as MD and Group CEO in April 2020, Rahul Joshi, MD, Network18, was given additional charge. In September 2021, Jyoti Deshpande was appointed as Group CEO of the company, in addition to her role at JioStudios.

Last year, when Bodhi Tree, a joint venture of Uday Shankar and James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, picked up close to 15% stake in Viacom18, Deshpande went back to JioStudios, while Kevin Vaz, a confidant of Shankar, joined Viacom18 as CEO - broadcast entertainment, from Disney Star.

Vaz also brought along Alok Jain from Disney Star, in the role of president - general entertainment. This led to the exit of a few leadership team members of Viacom18, including Manisha Sharma (chief content officer, Hindi mass entertainment), Ravish Kumar (head - regional entertainment - Kannada and Marathi clusters), and Nina Elavia Jaipuria (head of Hindi and kids TV network).

Recently, Gourav Rakshit (COO - digital) has also put in his papers and is serving his notice period.

The executive cited above said four members have left Viacom18's leadership team in the last one year alone, and only four original leadership team members from pre-2020 are still with the company. They are Ajit Andhare (COO, Viacom18 Studios), Mahesh Shetty (head - network sales), Ferzad Palia (business head - JioCinema), and Anshul Ailawadi (business head - youth, music and English Entertainment)

Incidentally, Viacom18 is not the only broadcaster undergoing structural changes. Rival Zee Entertainment Enterprises, after its failed merger with Sony Pictures Networks India, has also embarked on streamlining its business. Last week, the company announced the exit of Rahul Johri, president - business, after a three-and-a-half-year stint. More senior-level exits are expected at the company, people familiar with the matter said.

Media experts say the space will see job losses following the merger of Viacom18 and Disney Star as merged company will see multiple duplicate roles.

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